The Hired Man is set during the first quarter of the Twentieth Century when many country people worked on the land or in the pits. A real sense of community was forged by hardship and the lack of technology. The music was written by Howard Goodall and based on a book by Melvyn Bragg.
The show opens with main character, John Tallentire, taking part in a hiring fair. The stage is full of movement and snatches of dialogue, as labourers and farmers bargain over wages. John takes a job as a farm labourer and his pregnant wife, Emily, later joins him. John enjoys his work but Emily, who gives birth to a daughter, May, is dissatisfied with the life and has an affair with another man, Jackson. Eventually John finds out and fights with Jackson, who leaves to join the army.
Sixteen years later, John and Emily are still together and have had another child, Harry. Emily has taken a job in a factory while John and Harry are working in a mine until the Great War begins, when both John and Harry volunteer. The war over, we move forward to 1920. Emily, who has now developed tuberculosis, suggests that they should return to the land. In a pit accident, John and two friends are cut off by a roof fall. They are eventually rescued and the story ends as it began, with John seeking work as a hired man.
More so than most musicals, this is involved and moving. The characters seem very real and the audience quickly becomes drawn in to their world. The hard life of the working man in the early Twentieth Century is demonstrated by concentrating on these few workers. The importance of the Union in improving working mens conditions is a major strand in the story, but because changes in attitude since the musical was written, that element works less well now.
John Tallentire, the main character, is on stage for much of the time and his performance is vital. Nikki Julian performs the role very well. He is very convincing and his singing is good. The rest of the cast are also good, with no weak links.
The Hired Man was Howard Goodalls first professional musical, written when he was 26. The music is excellent, appropriate for the story and moves the narrative forward. Songs include Song Of The Hired Men, in the first scene, Get Up And Go Lad, when John is encouraged to go fox hunting and leave his wife at home, and What Would You Say To Your Son, when headstrong Harry wishes to do things against the wishes of his parents. An excellent musical, well worth seeing.